Friday, February 10, 2006

Phenomenology of the Electric Guitar, Part II

Once upon a time, in a letter to grigorss, I tried to pontificate 'pon the phenomenology of the electric verbally trace the unsayable synaptic lightning-strikes of sound struck by those vibratoed, fuzzy, bee-buzzing notes...

OK, dude? I'm listening to the first Black Sabbath record...?

and that shit rocks the universe?

the Best Guitar Sound, though, is "Wheels of Confusion" on Black Sabbath Volume IV...somehow the coal-dust-covered englishman Tony Iommi makes his axe wail with all the epic ancient pain of Homer, Blues, Inferno...and that's just the first note...and this may sound random and infra-canonical, but you know who else's guitar sounds totally rad?

that guy from AC/DC.

he plays a Gibson SG, and I used to own one of those, but mine never produced all those, seriously, if you listen to the intro to "You Shook Me All Night Long"? it! I know it's "just" AC/DC! but do it anyway...and you hear all those harmonics coming off the melody?--it's all fuzzed out, but each note sounds like it's really three notes? that's cool. then listen to "Night Prowler"--same thing.

and I'll tell you something else.

you know how I mentioned "Potato Head Blues" by Louis Armstrong? the song that's really the first jazz song? because he shifts the focus from "let's dance" to "let's listen to the godlike peal of the instrumental genius as he turns the melody inside out and riffs all these microtonal, dissonant runs"? and I called it "cubist" trumpet playing?

well, you have to listen to Santana's version of "She's Not There." that old Zombies song that sucked when The Zombies did it. (that's called an "instant coffee" cover version; the original is dried, icky powder, and someone comes along and pours hot inspiration all over it and it comes alive. LIKE...I hate to say, because I like The Kinks, Van Halen's version of "You Really Got Me." or [another shameful admission] the version of "Brother Louie" by Stories, which blows away the original by Hot Chocolate...who were not a bad band by any stretch..."You Sexy Thing" and all that--)

so anyway, Santana, "She's Not There" listen to that guitar solo: if Satch is Juan Gris on "Potato," Carlos is Lucas Samaras on "She's"...maximalist...a little jewel box with a million silver straight pins sticking out of it...density of collapsed stars; someone once said the music of the future would contain as much information in one note as an entire Mozart symphony--they meant: enough juxtaposed, unexpected tonal différance...

and this is the first solo in "She's Not There." (the second solo's a separate epic.) he's not playing on any known scale because all scales are dead...he's playing the death of Cambodian multitudes, the death of his own childhood, the renewal in infinite sadness of hopeful love--

you can listen to it 1000 times and hear something new. I have. the guitar speaks, shrieks with all the longing of your naked inmost heart when no one could hear...the six strings draw blood, draw neural nets of winter tree chaos: beauty on blank blue skies...

and I'm not even going to bother to graph the Birthday Party's dark-moon guitar, or Sleater's interlocked strontium strum...


  1. Was listening to some old Weather Report last night, loving the layers in that.

    I haven't done it in decades, but a handful of times I've borrowed an orchestral score and "followed" it while listening to a recording (like the Rite of Spring). I'm an abysmal sight-reader, but I could catch enough cues to hear things I hadn't heard before (& I'd grown up with 4 versions of that particular piece, each one with more to teach me). Incredible eye- and ear-openers.

  2. ya know what? I love The Rite of Spring!

    I used to listen to it obsessively...a version conducted by Stravinsky, who was the second-most savage conductor of his own piece...not Boulez...who did it even better n' Igor? I can't remember...

    sounds like we may have the same standard for "good" music: it has to make me hear music in a new way. that's "good." anything else is just there. I sat thru a day-long meeting today with those Birthday Party guitarzz ringing in my head..."Sonny's Burning," a song so scary no one should ever listen to it...

    it's the Necronomicon of pop musik...I'm so exhausted I'm going to post this and pass outzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz